Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about how we use Trello as a “whiteboard simulator” for remote meetings. The interest in that has been phenomenal! We have also started experimenting with using Google Docs, Sheets & Slides in remote meetings. We have people in three different locations that needs to attend our meetings. You can see Google Docs, Sheets & Slides as the equivalents of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and Powerpoint). This blog post is a tutorial how you can start to use these tools in remote meetings.
For sound we use Skype or an ordinary conference phone. If you want to go all in on Google you can use their Hangouts service (chat, phone and video- conference). All documents are stored in Google Drive that is an online file storage and synchronization service, tightly integrated with Google Docs, Sheets & Slides to enable collaboration over the Internet. All meeting participants needs Google (Gmail) accounts.
Then on the meetings, we basically talk to each other and look in the documents online, without using any form of web conference or shared screen! How is this possible?
Automatic update function
Before going any further, I must explain the one thing that makes it possible to use Google Docs, Sheets & Slides in remote meetings. That is the automatic update function. If I write something in a document on my laptop, that update is very shortly after visible on the screens of the others looking at the document online. This happens without any form of reload. There is also a very neat auto save function so you don’t have to care about that either! The latest and most updated version of your documents is always present online. No more bothering of keeping track of different versions of documents!
We have tried with two different setups for remote meetings: workshops & project meetings.
This first setup is the one we use for workshops. In this example we are discussing a document (Google Docs) on the remote meeting.
The meeting facilitator talks and navigates around in the document. In the picture above the meeting facilitator is represented by his avatar seen up in the right corner (as a facial photo with a red line beneath). The cool trick now is that the other meeting participants can click on the avatar of the meeting facilitator and now starts to see where his cursor is in the document (as seen in the picture above as a ”red vertical line” currently placed between the words ”Lorem” and ”ipsum” under the ”Introduction” paragraph). When the meeting facilitator moves the cursor that change in location in the document is seen on the screen of all others that are ”viewing” the document.
So what you you need to prepare before the meeting? Apart from creating the document on Google Drive we do the following two things.
- Share the document with the meeting participants
For convenience (to save valuable meeting time) we share the document to all participants before the meeting. This is done by using the blue Share button in the top right corner.
Now you will see a dialogue where you enter the Google (Gmail) credentials for the meeting participants. You can chose three different levels: Edit, Comment & View.
To make things smoother we also perform the following step (despite the fact that invitation emails are sent separately to all persons that a document is shared to).
- Get link to document for inclusion in meeting invitation
It is neat to include the link to the document in the meeting invitation. Then the participants just clicks the link, comes straight into the document and the action can begin (without spending time looking in email inboxes to find the invitation email). One way of getting hold of the link is to look under Google Drive.
Right click on the document you want to share and chose the ”Get link” option from the menu. From here you can copy the full url to the document and then include it in the meeting invitation.
Are there more things to use for collaboration in the document? In fact there are! Continue reading and you will find out more about them.
If your have many participants in your meeting, maybe you want to use the online chat function to pass in questions to the meeting facilitator. If you are fewer participants, it’s often more convenient to interrupt and handle questions using the voice channel. Anyway, in the picture above you can see an ongoing chat. It is started by pressing the icon to the left of the ”Comments”-button in the upper right corner of the picture above.
Let the participants ”send in” questions via the chat function and have a section of the meeting to handle them. The chat function can also be used if you are a smaller group of people and don’t use any sound. Maybe to check some information, or discuss smaller adjustments to the document.
Comments can also be used as an alternative to the chat function during the remote meeting. You can see an example of a comment in the picture above. Use the cursor to mark some text you want to make a comment on and click on the ”Comments”-button. The comments function is maybe even more useful for evaluation. An example: You have finished making updates to a document and now wants feedback from a colleague. You share the document and your colleague can either make changes directly in the text (if you have given him or her edit permission) or use the comments function to share thoughts and feedback with you.
Post workshop work? If you have done all the updates during the meeting there is not much work to do after the meeting! No protocol is needed. If someone for some reason missed the meeting they can go back themselves in the document to view all changes (as seen in the picture above). The discussions is of course lost, if you not recorded them, which is also a possibility. 🙂
This second setup for remote meetings is the one we use for project meetings. In this example we use a presentation (Google Slides) to run the meeting.
As you hopefully can see in the picture above the presentations holds an agenda for the meeting and separate slides for things to discuss. The thing we use here is the linking function. Have a bullet point with text that links directly to, for example, a to-do list (Google Sheets). The participants clicks the link and jumps straight into the correct document!
You can follow the cursor of the meeting facilitator in Google Sheets as well. However when he or she is updating a cell, that becomes gray, and the text is not visible to others before Enter is hit (as showed in the picture above).
On other thing that we haven’t figured out yet is how to ”follow” in a presentation. You can’t press the ”Play”-button to show the presentation to remote participants (of course, if you connect your laptop to a projector, the others in the room can see it). Right now we use the good old way of speaking ”we are on page two” to navigate in the presentation.
The same preparations as for remote workshops applies here as well (see paragraph above). To minimize the number of links to keep track of (yes they can get lost too, just like emails) we reuse the same presentation for every recurring project meeting (that are run weekly, biweekly on monthly depending on the project). By having the same presentation you only have to share it once, and have one and the same link to include in your recurring meeting invitation.
Of course you need to prepare new slides inside the presentation. I use copy & paste from previous meeting and place those slides first in the presentation.
Post ”project meeting”-work
If you document decisions that are taken during the meeting, afterwards no protocol is needed! For example by adding them as bullet points on the same slides that initiates the discussion. Storing slides from previous meetings inside the same presentation also gives you a neat ”decision log”, to go back to later, if needed.
Benefits & disadvantages
So what are the benefits of using Google Docs, Sheets & Slides in remote meetings? I think they are:
- First of all, no valuable meeting time is spent on making sure that the participants have the same and correct version of the document. The link to the document is included in the meeting invitation. Since it is online, everybody have the same and most recent version. What a relief this is!
- A presentation can include links to other things that needs to be discussed. For example other Google documents. No need for the participants to keep track of those individual links, just the one for the starting presentation.
- Discussions and decisions can be captured and documented in the moment. Some caution though, you need a skilled meeting facilitator to pull of both speaking and writing at the same time. You don’t want your meetings to turn into multiple persons waiting for one guy to type on the keyboard. If that happens, split into two roles. One meeting facilitator that ”does the talking” and another person that ”does the writing”. You can even have multiple persons edit the same document all in once! However, maybe not recommendable, to keep some order in the meeting. 🙂
- You don’t have to use Google Docs, Sheets & Slides in your remote meetings. The collaboration benefits of using them anyhow is enormous!
What are the disadvantages? Company policies may not allow you to use online solutions that stores ”in the cloud”. I know for a fact that some larger companies block access to Google Drive for their employees.
The biggest benefit of doing like this, is that everything feels so easy! No time is wasted on solving meaningless problems (do we have the same version of the document? Is this the latest version? Etc.) No more “extra steps” for the meeting facilitator to store documents (in intranet, file servers or Sharepoint) and endlessly keeping track of different versions. I think this is the future way of working!
All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist